For those with a strong interest in the defence of the realm, which should include us all, the defence sections of the various party manifestos make depressing reading. An interesting exercise, if it were possible, would be to read the relevant sections after removing all references to the party which wrote them and them sort them into order of preference. I suspect that UKIP would top the list in many cases. It could be argued that documents produced by parties with no chance of forming a government are not so much manifestos as statements of desire, but somebody in UKIP has the right idea on defence.
The main concern we should have about the documents produced by the main parties is the constant reference to the ubiquitous 2%. It should have been established by now that this arbitrary figure accepted by NATO cannot possibly be used as a benchmark for sufficient expenditure for our defence needs. Part of the reason for the severe gaps in equipment, manpower and capability is this blind faith that 2% is sufficient. It isn’t, and never will be. To adhere to any fixed percentage must be a nonsense.
In General Elections most people vote for the party which will be the best for their standard of living. Cynical possibly, but I believe it to be true. Very few, if anybody, votes for the party which has what they consider to be the best defence policy.
So, what use are manifestos? They contain commitments which the government must deliver but, essentially, they provide a foundation upon which bodies like UKNDA must continue to insist the politicians build until we have brought our armed forces back to the kind of levels we need.
Whoever wins the election there will be much work to do.
So another election is upon us. The main issue is Brexit and, no doubt, we are going to have more heat than light on the topic.
We cannot allow the parties to neglect defence and this is our chance to ask the candidates in our constituencies what their views are and ensure the subject is properly debated. As in previous elections, I shall be posting the defence sections of the Party Manifestos on the website when they become available.
Did you see the piece on Daily Politics on 24th April? If not go to the iPlayer and find it. The relevant part starts after 52 minutes. In the “Soap Box” slot the writer Andrew Sabisky makes the case for spending 6% of GDP on defence for at least the next five years. He has a good grasp of the issues and clearly explains some of the present deficiencies which, he argues, need fixing quickly.
The government continues to give the impression that, by spending 2% of GDP on defence, everything is fine and we have the defences we need. One look at the shortcomings in our capability and equipment should be enough for anybody with the slightest knowledge of the subject to see that is nonsense.
The Defence Secretary was not only defending the 2% in a radio interview the other day but also admitting that cuts were needed. When pressed on whether the rumours about cuts in the Royal Marines were true, all he could say was that the First Sea Lord had to decide on the Royal Navy’s priorities on spending. That was an extreme case of “passing the buck”.
The Armed Forces are under funded and under equipped. For the government to be even considering cutting the strength of one of the world’s finest fighting elites is nothing less than disgraceful and puts a lie to the notion that defence and security come first in the government’s priorities. If they allowed the Service Chiefs to say what they really think, as they do in America, they might begin to understand the real situation.
We, in UKNDA, need to highlight the weaknesses in our defence, so I would encourage everyone to write to their local press and MP to express their concern. It might also serve to bring this matter better into the public domain.
Finally, let me remind you about the Richard Holmes Memorial Lecture on 24th May. Members should have received notification recently about it, so please let us know as soon as possible if you are coming. It promises to be a good evening with the added advantage of the venue in the House of Commons. More details are on the Home Page.
All NATO members have agreed to spend 2% of GDP on defence. Does this mean that the defence of our country will be assured if we spend that amount? Of course not and, if you want proof, you need look no further to the present state of the armed services now that we have worked our way down to that figure. The government is treating the figure as a target, but it was designed by NATO as a minimum contribution to the safety of all. More worryingly, the government seems set on the idea that spending 2% automatically means that we have sufficient defences.
In an ideal world, we would assess our defence priorities and needs and spend the money to achieve them. Cloud cuckoo land probably, but isn’t that the reason the SDSR system was established? It most definitely was not designed to be used as a cost cutting exercise as in 2010. What happened then was a complete disgrace and has led to many years of a dangerous lack of capability.
The 2015 review was a step in the right direction, but has done very little to repair the damage of 2010.
What can we do?
We must rid ourselves of the 2% syndrome, it is too low. We should not have a specific target; it makes a nonsense of the, not so often quoted as before, adage that Defence and Security are the first priorities of government. What we need to spend will automatically be larger than the NATO commitment.
Whatever we spend must be spent wisely. This has been stressed in our various publications recently and we shall be pursuing the subject further. We need to concern ourselves about who is making the spending decisions. There have been far too many cases of waste and overspending in recent years, but no one seems to be held responsible. Are the service chiefs happy with what has been happening recently? Unfortunately, they are not in a position to say. The Americans can, so why not us?
There is real frustration about our defences and the general public should be concerned. The government do a good job in convincing us that they neither know, or care, much about defence. Surely if they did, we would not be in the position we are in now?
“Fake News” and “Alternative Facts” seem to be the order of the day at the moment, no more so than in the reporting of defence news. At least, one almost hopes so because it would be worrying if all the stories published recently were true. Yet, would it be surprising if they were?
I don’t suppose I will remember all of them, but a few will make the point.
You could help us with this. Write to your MP, especially if he/she is in the defence team or a member of the Defence Select Committee, and ask them to explain what is happening to our armed forces. Please send a copy of your letter and the reply to us. We would be most grateful.
Meanwhile, I hope you have read the Discussion Paper by Fred Dupuy. It highlights the issue of procurement about which we are going to put strong pressure on the government. Something is seriously wrong at the moment leading to waste and serious gaps in capability.
Finally, are we getting to the point when the government can no longer claim that it believes that Security and Defence are the first duties of government?
We have had a busy start to the New Year, culminating in the launch of Commentary 13 on 17th January. The authors and our CEO, Andy Smith, put a great deal of work into producing “STRATEGIC DEFENCE & SECURITY REVIEW 2015: ONE YEAR ON” and I hope you will take the time to read it. It was launched at the RAF Club at the same time as the Prime Minister was delivering her speech on Brexit elsewhere! There was nothing that could be done about that, but it was encouraging that we still had a good press turnout and a good question and answer session.
A few days before that there was a debate in the House of Lords on “Armed Forces Capability” introduced by Lord Robertson. It was encouraging to see that there was cross-party concern about the strength of our armed forces. Two of our Patrons spoke in the debate with Lord West being followed by Lord Campbell. A portion of Lord West’s speech is on our Homepage and you can read the whole debate here.
It was not a long debate, so please don’t be put off reading it.
We held our latest Board Meeting on 18th January during which we co-opted a new member to the Board. Fred Dupuy had a 45 year career in the Merchant Navy and has just contributed his second discussion paper which will be on the website shortly. Keep your eyes open for “Are Big Ships really Sinking the RN?” To read more about Fred go to “About Us’ and select “Directors”.
Finally, the venue for the Richard Holmes Memorial Lecture has been booked. We have been fortunate enough to gain access to the Palace of Westminster once again. The lecture will be in Committee Room 6 at 6.30pm on Wednesday 24th May.
2016 has been a busy year for UKNDA and I should like to thank all of you who have worked hard on our behalf, particularly our CEO, our Secretary, the Board of Directors and the Advisory Council.
It has been something of a mixed year for defence, starting with some encouragement from the tone of SDSR 15, but ending with the feeling that the government still doesn’t appreciate the importance of properly balanced armed forces.
The chart on the Home Page of our website clearly shows that spending has come down sharply over the years to 2% of GDP, rather than the impression the government likes to give which is that it has risen to that level. Not only that, but it was some careful accounting, rather than new money, that allowed us to reach that figure. After earlier defence cuts we have a lot of catching up to do in equipment, manpower and skills, so spending is going to need to rise. A percentage of GDP is all very well as a base, but it does not take into account the safety and security needs of our country.
As far as NATO is concerned, it is worrying that the majority of members are not contributing their agreed share. This has to be addressed as a matter of some urgency.
There were, of course, other developments in 2016, a couple of which made me think. It was the first year since 1982 that patrolling the Falklands was left in the hands of a ship smaller than a frigate or destroyer. It was also the year that an EU military exercise took place on Salisbury Plain, with the EU flag prominent on military vehicles. Whatever the outcome of the Brexit talks, an EU Army is surely a complete waste of time and money.
Finally, looking forward to next year, do not forget the Richard Holmes Memorial Lecture on 24th May.
I wish everyone a Happy Christmas and Peaceful New Year.
At the moment every story about defence seems to be more depressing than the one before.
Almost every day it seems, we hear of shortages of personnel, poor accommodation for those we do have and worrying gaps in our military capability. It was announced recently that a large number of apparently redundant bases were to be closed during the next few years, and that the money realised was all to go into improving accommodation elsewhere. We must ensure that these funds are not subject to accounting creativity and find their way into the infamous 2%, instead of being extra to it.
Recent news reinforces our view that defence spending should be nearer 3% of GDP, but we have to argue that with a government who show all the signs of not understanding the importance of sound and balanced defence.
It also appears that someone took their eye off the ball with regard to surface to surface missiles. For a view on this do please read the latest UKNDA Discussion Document which has been published today, and then give us your views.
Andy Smith, our CEO, recently held a meeting with our “Authors Group” who are intending to publish another of their excellent Commentaries in the New Year. Naturally that will also be published on the website. I hope you have also read Andy’s latest statements on NATO and the proposed EU Army.
It has been decided to launch this blog in order to try to keep members, and potential members, up-to-date with what UKNDA is doing to achieve its aims.
It will be published as, and when, thought necessary and the Home Page of the website will indicate when a new blog is posted.
The AGM was held in October and I was pleased to welcome a small, but enthusiastic, group of members to the meeting. The existing Board was re-elected, including Col. Andy Allen who had been co-opted in May.
One of the issues discussed was how to attract more members to the AGM. By their nature, AGMs tend not to attract many people, particularly if much travelling is involved. Having a speaker may be beneficial, as could moving the meeting to the same day as the Richard Holmes Memorial Lecture. The latter, while appearing attractive, may present too many administrative problems. If you do not usually attend the AGM please do use the Contact Page on the website if there is something we can do to attract you to come.
I do not intend these blogs to be lengthy, but there are a number of issues I have in mind to cover, so do please check the website, from time to time, to keep in touch with our activities. Our CEO, Andy Smith, works very hard on our behalf, and I shall keep you informed about his latest work.
There are a number of members who publish articles or books, so I intend to bring these to your attention shortly.
Meanwhile, I hope you have the date of the next Richard Holmes Memorial Lecture in your diaries. It will be held in London on Wednesday 24th May 2017, and will be given by the eminent historian Dr Peter Caddick-Adams. The venue will be confirmed early in the New Year.